Philadelphia wants to tap at Poe's door

Edgar Allan Poe never lived in one city for long, and since he died and was buried here in 1849 this city has claimed him as its own.

But last year, Edward Pettit, a Poe scholar in Philadelphia, began arguing that Poe's remains belong in Philadelphia. Poe wrote many of his most noteworthy works there and, according to Pettit, that city's rampant crime and violence in the mid-19th century framed Poe's sinister outlook and inspired his creation of the detective fiction genre.

“So, Philadelphians, let's hop in our cars, drive down I-95 and appropriate a body from a certain Baltimore cemetery,” Pettit wrote in an article for the Philadelphia City Paper in October. “I'll bring the shovel.”

So far, no one has taken up Pettit's call for Philadelphia's best grave robbers to bring home the city's prodigal son before the bicentennial of Poe's birth in January. But the ghoulish argument between the cities over the body and legacy of the master of the macabre has continued in blogs and newspapers. On Jan. 13, Pettit is to square off with an opponent from Baltimore to settle the matter in a debate at the Philadelphia Free Library.

“Philadelphia can keep its broken bell and its cheesesteak, but Poe's body isn't going anywhere,” said Jeff Jerome, the curator of the Poe House in Baltimore and Pettit's opponent in the debate.

This is not the first time a city other than Baltimore has laid claim to Poe. New York, Richmond, Va., and even Sullivan's Island, S.C., near Charleston, call the writer a onetime resident.

Jerome and Pettit both say there is little chance Poe's body will leave Baltimore. Their argument, which even prompted the mayor of Baltimore to tell Philadelphia to back off, is good publicity for one of the country's greatest writers, they say.

But Jerome is quick to add that he is not taking any chances.

On a minute's notice and with one telephone call, he said as, he could turn out at least 50 people to defend Poe's grave.

Jerome said that everything would be settled at the debate, and in exactly the way that Poe would have wanted.

“I will argue the other guy down with grace and facts,” Jerome said. “Then I will walk over to him like a gentleman and punch him square in the nose.”